Briefing Skipper: Ground Zero mosque, Lebanon, Pakistan, Moscow, Wikileaks
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday’s briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley: Imam Faisal Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, will be traveling on a U.S. government sponsored excursion to the Middle East, including stops in Qatar, ...
In which we scour the transcript of the State Department’s daily presser so you don’t have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday’s briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:
- Imam Faisal Rauf, the man behind the Ground Zero mosque, will be traveling on a U.S. government sponsored excursion to the Middle East, including stops in Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. He will discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance," Crowley said. The trip is organized by the State Department’s International Information Programs bureau and will not include any fundraising. This is his third trip with the State Department; the first one was in 2007 under the George W. Bush administration. "So we have a long-term relationship with him," said Crowley. "His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known, and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States."
- Crowley defended that the State Department posted New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s impassioned defense of the mosque despite that the White House has said it should remain a local issue. "It’s not normal that the federal government would get involved in what is I think a zoning issue in New York City," he said. "We are obviously supportive of religious tolerance, not only around the world but in the United States."
- Crowley said the article was posted on America.gov, which is aimed at foreign audiences, rather than State.gov, which is aimed at U.S. web surfers, to avoid violating the Smith-Mundt act, which prohibits State from spreading propaganda inside American borders. "As part of our efforts to help people understand a vigorous debate that is going on, within New York and around the country, we posted Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks on america.gov, which is our website that is geared primarily to helping people overseas understand views on important issues here in the country," he said. The administration still has no official position on the mosque, he added.
- Crowley defended ongoing U.S. assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which has apparently been held up by Congressman Howard Berman, D-CA and Congresswoman Nita Lowey, D-NY because of concerns the LAF is working with Hizbollah. "We continue to believe that supporting the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army or military is in our national interest. It contributes to stability in the region," he said. A State Department official told The Cable that he expects the holds to be released after State works with Congress on the issue.
- Referring to the border clash last week with Israel, Crowley added, "We have no indications that our training programs were in any way implicated in what happened." As for whether Hizbollah infiltration of the Lebanese army was a reason not to continue military support, he said, "It’s not a reason to be concerned; it’s a reason actually to work constructively with the Lebanese government to try to reduce the impact that a group like Hezbollah can have."
- The State Department announced $20 million more in aid to Pakistan to help with the ever expanding damage caused by floods there. The floods are also affecting India and a team of embassy officials have been dispatched to the city of Leh from New Delhi to assist there. For the most recent update on what the U.S. government is doing to help, go here.
- State is also helping out Russia during their heat and fire crisis, dispatching a team from the U.S. Forest Disaster Assistance Support Program, but State only gave $50,000 to Russia on that issue. State issued another travel warning Tuesday, stating that the fires "have produced hazardous levels of air pollution and caused numerous flight delays and cancellations in Moscow." Non-essential embassy staff have been given permission to leave the country.
- No confirmation on the report that the U.S. is pushing other countries to open prosecutions against Wikileaks, following the disclosure of 70,000 Afghanistan war documents and threats coming from the Pentagon. "Obviously, it is something that’s cropped up in different conversations that we’ve had. Citing one, the secretary’s call last week with President Karzai, they did talk about WikiLeaks and she asked the president what his perspective on it was," Crowley said.
- State Department officials also met with RIM officials yesterday afternoon to discuss the blackberry ban in the UAE, but they did not get into the specifics of their ongoing negotiations, Crowley said.